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The Essential Drucker on effective leadership – by Brent Crowe

Peter Drucker was one of the most influential and prophetic writers and thinkers on management and leadership in business over the last century. Drucker is to business what Michael Jordan is to basketball, Mickey Mantle is to baseball, and Pele is to soccer. In short, his impact and influence has been held in such high esteem that it is difficult to underestimate his contribution. It is this thinking in legendary terms that makes The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Druckers Essential Writings on Management such an important work and my focus for this blog. I realize that to many of us in ministry Drucker may be unknown, but after reading The Essential Drucker I wanted to pass off a few of his thoughts on leadership in hopes that you would both be equipped by this short article, and encouraged to engage Druckers work. Make no mistake about it, when reading The Essential Drucker one is given a backstage pass into the mind of a genius. What fascinated me the most out of this 26-chapter book was a small little chapter entitled Leadership As Work. In that chapter, he successfully articulates what leadership is not and follows up with a description that is the very essence of effective leadership. The heart of his view on leadership is:

Leadership does matter, of course. But, alas, it is something different from what is now touted under this label. It has little to do with leadership qualities and even less to do with charisma. It is mundane, unromantic, and boring. Its essence is performance.

Drucker is right in that leadership, at the end of the day, is a lot of hard work. There are two things that Drucker says leadership is not. First, leadership is not leadership qualities or a leadership personality. If leadership was a personality or a set of qualities woven into an individuals DNA, then leaders would in fact be born and not made. Leadership would then be attainable only by a select group of people who were predisposed or predetermined. While it is true that few will aspire, and even fewer will attain, leadership potential and development is available to the masses. Secondly Drucker says that leadership is not charisma.

Indeed, charisma becomes the undoing of leaders. It makes them inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility, unable to change. This is what happened to Stalin, Hitler and Mao, and it is commonplace in the study of ancient history that only Alexander the Greats early death saved him from becoming an ineffectual failure.

This begs the question, if it is not charisma and not a set of personality traits, what then is leadership? To this question, Drucker offers three ideas.

  1. Leadership is work. The foundation of effective leadership is thinking through the organizations mission, defining it, and establishing it, clearly and visibly. The leader sets the goals, sets the priorities, and sets and maintains the standards. Each year at SLU 101 one of the loudest messages that Dr. Jay and I try to sound the alarm on is that leaders are willing to do what most people are not willing to do.
  2. Leadership is a responsibility rather than a rank, position or privilege. Effective leaders are rarely permissive. But when things go wrongand they always dothey do not blame others. President Harry Trumans definition of responsibility was the buck stops here. This is as good a definition as any.
  3. Effective leadership is to earn trust. Otherwise, there wont be an followersand the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. To trust a leader, it is not necessary to like him. Nor is it necessary to agree with him. Trust is the conviction that the leader means what he says. It is the belief in something very old-fashioned, called integrity.

So the question for all of us, if Drucker is right and I believe that he is, is are we willing to work hard, take responsibility in a culture where very few do, and earn the trust of the followers we would like to have? Leadership is a vehicle; it is a means to an end. It can be used to accomplish incredible good or unimaginable evil. If leadership is a means to an end, as those whose life should center on the Gospel of Jesus, to what end do you lead?

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